The passage read as today’s Gospel is a series of closely connected events occurring early in Jesus’ ministry; just after he had called Matthew to be one of his disciples.
We heard that as Jesus sat at dinner many tax collectors and “sinners” came and were sitting with Jesus and his disciples. (This was also recorded in the Gospels of Mark and Luke.) In Luke’s Gospel it says that Levi, whom we also know as Matthew, had invited Jesus to eat at his house. It may be that Matthew did not feel it necessary to say in his Gospel where it occurred.
The place where they were eating was apparently fairly big. It not only accommodated Jesus and his disciples, but we know also that many tax collectors and sinners, and some Pharisees were there.
We heard that the Pharisees asked the disciples of Jesus, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” When Jesus heard this he addressed all of them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” He told them to look at the writings of the Prophet Hosea and learn what the phrase, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” meant. (Hos. 6:6). Jesus made it clear that his mission was not to the righteous but those who were considered sinners.
This event was followed by some disciples of John the Baptist asking Jesus why he and his disciples did not fast when they and the Pharisees fasted often. We know that Jesus answered that by comparing himself to a bridegroom at a wedding, and his disciples to the guests.
As we enter into this season of Lent this discussion of fasting gives us an opportunity to consider the significance that fasting has for us. We think of Lent as a time for concentrating on spiritual disciplines. As we do this we can see that there are other ways in which we can fast besides abstaining from food.
Jesus’ statement that it was not appropriate for him and his disciples to fast while he was still with them leads straight into two examples of practicality, using suitable material for patching clothes and putting new wine into new, fresh leather containers instead of trying to re-use old ones for storing wine. The analogy that we can see there is Jesus awareness of the need for his teaching to be seen as a new and vital way of keeping God’s law of love; as a broader and deeper interpretation of that love. Jesus’ way was not simply sewing patches on the minutia of the rules and regulations that had proliferated during the years of the exile of the Hebrew people when they had escaped from Egypt, or the interpretations that had been added on in the following centuries.
Now as we enter another season of Lent we have the opportunity of examining our understanding of the way in which Jesus saw his mission of renewing people’s grasp of the truths of God’s Reign in terms of mercy, peace, and love. We can do this as we compare the problems that Jesus encountered in his generation with the problems that we see around us in our generation in many different ways. We can then pray for a deeper understanding of the problems of each generation by seeing how Jesus responded to those he encountered. By our prayer we can learn how to understand and deal more clearly with the problems of our own age.
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